The Listeners

Something is going to happen
before this night is done.
They know, these children do,
the signs: certain smells,
hard-edged laughter, voices
rising from the kitchen
hour by sleepless hour.
They can close doors, plead
Stop, oh please stop into pillows
no matter how many times.
It won’t. Each pause is prelude
to anything but silence, but sleep.
Late, one of them may venture
down the stairs—holding up
pajama bottoms, their elastic
gone slack with wear—
take her by the hand, as if
no one had tried this before,
and whisper in the loud room,
Come to bed, Mom? Please?
She won’t this time, either,
old wrongs rising up in her words,
flailing, blind as need, needing
to be put right. The listeners
will have to go on listening hard
for what they don’t want to hear
until finally he slams her
against furniture, a wall—they know
the sound a body makes
in falling. She’ll be bruised
around the eyes again, tomorrow,
her nose broken, perhaps.
Or worse. They’ve seen worse.
Childhood is all around
them, forward and back.
Something is going to happen.
And happen. And happen.
—Eric Trethewey